Deadly Feasts..........i'm Now a Vegetarian!

It's been over 10 years now, the first time I read this book. I've read it a few times since and I've recommended it countless times.

 This is not a book for the squeamish or weak of stomach. Right away you're treated to a detailed, clinical description of cannibalism. "What does cannibalism have to do with me?" you ask. Well, it was the first clue in a mystery which began in the 1950's and which even today has not been completely solved.

Deadly Feasts reads like a whodunit, beginning with a mysterious disease called "kuru" (koo-roo) which primarily affected the Fore ("foray") women and children of New Guinea who practiced cannibalism (the Fore men did not). The classic symptoms of kuru were "one month of unsteady gait followed by tremors and athetosis [continuous slow movement of hands and feet] and blurred speech in the second month and ... in the third month almost complete incapacitation." Death was not quick, nor kind: The victims lost the ability to swallow, and thirsted or starved to death — that is, if pneumonia or infected bedsores didn’t take them first. The brains of kuru victims, when autopsied, revealed a sponge-like pattern of holes, almost as if eaten away from the inside.

Dr. D. Carleton Gajdusek lived for many years among the Fore in New Guinea, studying kuru and its effects. Gajdusek published articles and spoke at medical conferences about his experiences. One researcher who heard Gajdusek speak connected kuru with a disease described earlier in the century called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). In 1921, in Germany, Dr. Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt had published an article in a medical journal describing the two-month course of a disease in a 23-year-old woman, which went from neglecting her appearance and "assuming peculiar postures" to twitching, tremors, tic-like jerks of the extremities, slurred speech, and finally epileptic seizures, coma, and death. Upon autopsy, the brain showed a sponge-like texture, similar to that of kuru victims autopsied decades later. Dr. Alfons Jakob read the paper while it was still in press, and recognized the symptoms and pathology as the same as four of his patients who had died previously.

In 1959, a letter to the British medical journal Lancet by a veterinary researcher named William J. Hadlow compared kuru and CJD with scrapie, a disease first recorded in sheep in 1730 in East Anglia, but known to exist long before. The symptoms were similar, and autopsies of the brains of affected sheep revealed the familiar sponge-like texture. Scrapie was of more concern to sheep farmers than physicians, however, because people had been eating lamb and mutton for thousands of years with no apparent transmission of the disease. Then, in 1963, Hadlow was called to a mink ranch in Idaho to examine minks affected by a scrapie-like disease which was eventually called transmissible mink encephalopathy, or TME, and which, upon autopsy, again revealed spongiform changes in the brain tissue. TME was prevalent in minks that had been fed packing-plant by-products — that is, offal from the meat-packer’s floor, along with the bodies of "downed" cows (those which had been found dead or paralyzed, their meat considered unfit for human consumption). This decidedly unappetizing conglomeration was ground up, dried, and mixed with feed for farm animals of all types — chickens, sheep, pigs, cows — as well as ranch animals like mink. (This mixture, along with the bodies of roadkill and euthanized cats and dogs, can also go into commercial pet foods.) {which is why my dog eats organic pet food}

Step by step, the connection between "mad cow disease", or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and other types of spongiform encephalopathy, including kuru, CJD, and scrapie, was made. Normally, these diseases are not easily transmitted from one animal to another. In the laboratory, oral transmission of scrapie required a dose of infected tissue one hundred million times greater than direct inoculation into the brain. But our modern, high-tech form of cannibalism via the feeding of meat and bone meal to our "food" animals has obviously helped stack the odds in favor of an increased incidence of infection.

The history of how all of these diseases were tested in laboratories to try to determine how it's transmitted and the means of transmission makes for fascinating, yet horrifying, reading. And the story of how modern scientists have not heeded these findings, beginning with the use in the 1970's of growth hormone derived from the pituitary glands of human cadavers — including those with CJD — and continuing to the present-day "mad cow disease" crisis in England, is enough to make a person turn vegetarian, which I did!

BUT...as Dr. Gajdusek points out, "...probably all the pigs in England are infected. And that means not only pork. It means your pigskin wallet. It means catgut surgical suture, because that’s made of pig tissue. All the chickens fed on meat-and-bone meal; they’re probably infected. You put that stuff in a chicken and it goes right through. A vegetarian could get it from the chicken-**** that they put on the vegetables. It could be in the tallow, in butter — how the hell am I supposed to measure infectivity in butter? No one on earth knows how to do that. These people who’ve come down with CJD have given blood. It’s undoubtedly in the blood supply.... And by the way, it could be in the milk. That hasn’t been excluded either."

If you value your peace of mind over truth, avoid this book. If, however, you wish to face the future head-on, eyes wide open, I would urge you to read Deadly Feasts. It is a well-written, page-turner of a book which any science fiction writer would be proud to claim as his or her own. Alas — if only it were fiction...

JojoWazoo JojoWazoo
46-50, F
3 Responses Mar 20, 2009

That was interesting, gross but interesting. I agree , don't trust the meat industry.There's too much not known about how animals are raised and fed. I could go vegan but I still like milk and cheese..Soy milk.Thanks for the heads up!

I didn't become a vege right when I read it. I saw a video at work of a woman who had KJD and it freaked me out so bad. that's when I gave up meat. I still eat some fish, cheese, occasional eggs (usually in cake or bread some squash) I even use heavy cream sometimes but I drink vanilla soy milk.<br />
My stomach used to turn to look at meat at the grocery store but I'm better about it and I cook it for my family. I just refuse to buy ground meat. That's the real danger is the gray matter and spinal cord stuff getting into ground meat. It is an interesting read. I recommend it even if you still plan on eating meat. Some people go vege in stages. I know I can't be a vegan. It just not an option for me.

Don't you love it when a book gives you a new way of looking at your world. I will put it on my list, but I don't know if I am ready to be a vegetarian.